Happy Birthday, Michael Schumacher

January 3rd marked the birthday of one of Formula 1’s greatest ever drivers, Michael Schumacher.

Michael Schumacher won the FIA World Drivers’ Championship seven times in his career, more than any driver in history. To add to this incredible achievement, he holds tons of other F1 records, including: most race wins (91); most pole positions (68); and most fastest laps (77). He is, statistically, the most successful driver in F1 history.

Michael was born on 3rd January 1969 in a town called Hürth, located in West Germany. His love affair with racing started aged four, when he joined his local kart club. By the age of six, he had become club champion. His parents took on multiple jobs to help fund his passion, but as he grew older and the equipment became bigger, they no longer could support him and needed help from local businessmen. Aged thirteen, he won the German Junior Kart Championship. In 1987, he won both the German and European Kart Championships, and then left school a year later. He went into single-seat racing, and started to win championships at different formula levels. In 1990, he joined the Mercedes youth programme, and raced in the World Sportscar Championship.

Michael’s breakthrough came in 1991, when, driving for Jordan, he made his F1 debut at Spa; a track renowned for its high speed challenging corners, overtaking opportunities, and variable weather conditions. He qualified seventh, the team’s best grid position for the season, only to retire on the first lap with technical issues. His impressive showing in Spa led Benetton to sign him up immediately. 1992 provided his first F1 podium and win, in Mexico and Spa respectively, and he finished third overall in the standings. In 1993, he had similar success, taking a race win in Estoril and finished fourth in championship.

1994 was the year he finally won the F1 title, in what proved to be a tragic year for the sport, with the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, who many regarded then, and even now, as the greatest F1 driver of all time. The championship came down to the final race, at Adelaide, between Michael and Brit Damon Hill in the Williams. From the beginning of the race, Michael lead Hill at the front, but on lap 36, Schumacher went off track, and when he returned he and Hill were neck-and-neck. They collided, and Michael was out of the race immediately. Hill tried to continue, but the damage to his car was too great and he had to retire, leaving Michael as the first German to become F1 champion. The collision is hotly disputed to this day as to whether Michael intentionally hit Hill or not. The following year, there were no such problems; he won nine races and comfortably defended the title to become F1’s youngest double champion at the time.

In 1996, Michael joined Ferrari, a team very much in transition, and brought with him Benetton designer Rory Byrne, and Technical Director Ross Brawn. With Jean Todt also there, Ferrari were optimistic that they would be victorious again, and they weren’t to be disappointed. In his first year, he won three races and came third in the championship.

The most talked about moment of the year was his race win on a wet Circuit de Catalunya, where he lapped nearly the entire grid. In 1997, Ferrari were more competitive, and just missed out on the championship in the final race at Jerez. Like in 1994, he sole competitor was a Williams driver. This time it was in the shape of Gilles Villeneuve’s son, Jacques. For most of the race Michael led, just like in Adelaide in 1994. Villeneuve attempted an overtake and, as in 1994, there was a collision. This time though, the outcome was different. Michael retired, while Jacques went onto win the championship. Michael was judged to have deliberately caused the collision, and was disqualified from the championship.

The following years, Michael had a new competitor in the shape of McLaren’s Mika Häkkinen, and in 1998, Michael fell short again at last race at Suzuka, as a stall at start of race and a puncture killed his title bid. in 1999, it was looking like another season long duel between the two until Silverstone, where Michael crashed and broke his leg, resulting in him missing six races.

At the turn of the millennium, the Ferrari “dream team” finally paid off. From 2000 to 2004, Michael and Ferrari went on to win the lot. They won the double, Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, a record five consecutive times. Michael won a staggering 47 GPs in that period, and twice broke the number of wins in a season (eleven in 2002; thirteen in 2004). In 2000, he won the title at the penultimate race, which was at Suzuka, where he had suffered the heartache of losing out two years previously. In 2001, he won nine races to comfortably take his fourth title.

2003 saw Finnish young star Kimi Räikkönen, who later replaced Michael, take the title down to the final Grand Prix at Suzuka. Räikkönen needed to win, with Michael not scoring to take his first title. Michael’s team-mate, Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, won the race, ensuring that Michael clinched a record breaking sixth title.

After clinching his seventh title in 2004, Ferrari experienced an uncompetitive season, due to new tyre regulations, and Michael only won once. The win came at Indianapolis, and was mainly due to only eight cars finishing due to safety issues involving the teams using Michelin tyres.

2006 saw Michael and Ferrari back to being competitive. Controversy reared its ugly head again at Monaco, where Michael was stripped of his pole position, because he stopped his car at Rascasse and prevented his main competitor, Spain’s Fernando Alonso, from taking pole. Michael announced his retirement from F1 on the podium at Monza, and after seven race wins the title came down to the final race at Interlagos. Michael needed to win and Alonso not to score, just like in 2003. Michael suffered a puncture early on, and fell down the grid, but fought back in typical Schumacher style to finish fourth.

In 2009, after Felipe Massa’s horror accident in Hungary, it was rumoured that Michael would be back driving at Ferrari for remainder of that season, however, due to a neck injury suffered earlier on in the year, this never occurred. He did return to F1 racing, however, in 2010.

He joined Mercedes, where he had been part of their youth programme a couple of decades before that. There was much anticipation, and optimism, in the returning Schumacher, but over his three years at Mercedes, he only was on the podium once, and seemed a shadow of his glory days, with his younger team-mate, Keke Rosberg’s son Nico, bettering him in qualifying and races on many occasions.

Moreover, he was involved in numerous crashes, which were judged to be Michael’s fault. After it was announced in 2012 that Brit Lewis Hamilton would be joining the team, Michael announced his retirement from F1 for the second time, but before he did retire, he showed us all of his pure talent by taking pole position at Monte Carlo. That would be his 68th Pole Position, and along with his 91 wins, seven F1 titles, and many other records, he guaranteed his place along the greats.

On 29th December 2013, whilst skiing his in the French Alps, Michael fell and hit his head on a rock. He was taken to a medical centre and put into a medically induced coma. On 16th June 2014, he had regained conciousness, and continued his treatment in Switzerland. On 9th September 2014, he was brought home, and is continuing his rehabilitation there. The latest news is that he is in a wheelchair, but is starting to recognise his loved ones’ faces and voices.

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